Guest post by John H. Davis, author of Combat to College: Applying the Military Mentality as a Student Veteran, out September 20, 2022. Preorder now!
Nobody said the veteran journey was going to be easy. Our former profession impacts us every day for the rest of our lives. We got used to routine in the military, and developing healthy routines will lead to better college lives. Someone was telling me what to do every day of my military career. When I got out, nobody materialized to tell me what to do. So, for a while, I did nothing.
“One of the best mental disciplines for people to implement is simply putting together a schedule or a task list and actually executing it. . . . Life becomes much better when you do that.”Jocko Willink
There is incredible strength in daily structure. We learned that in the military. Structure builds momentum, and momentum is how you win battles, no matter where you are fighting. What student veterans do daily is what makes their lives better or worse, but it happens gradually. Veterans are sometimes better at making things worse than better. Habits are just good decisions repeated. You can’t always change your circumstances or your past, but you can change yourself, bit by bit, by doing these six things each day during your college experience.
1. Talk To Another Veteran
Good friends are hard to find in civilian life but easy to find in uniform. Our military friendships play an essential role in our lives. Veterans that you served with, or even ones you didn’t, are on call for you 24/7. Sometimes you just need to talk to someone who gets it. It doesn’t matter how you do it—a text or message works fine. Talk to another veteran, one of your brothers or sisters, every day. Meet veterans at your school or say, “what’s up,” to the guy with the Vietnam hat on. Talking to a fellow veteran each day will strengthen our veteran community and remind you that you still belong to something greater than yourself. We are in this thing together.
2. Do Something Physical
You don’t need to do a ten-mile run, ruck march, or run obstacle courses every day, but do something. Daily exercise will improve your mood, your brain, and your emotional state. We are incredibly active in the military; we work out every morning and then bust our asses all day. I didn’t struggle to sleep when I was active duty because I was exhausted at the end of the day. Living a more sedentary life post-service is what kicked off my sleeping problems.
Getting to work out on your own schedule is both better and worse. The military can ruin working out for us because it’s always raining, people are yelling, and we feel the need to count out loud every exercise like kindergarteners. But now you can ride a bike, hike in the woods, take a class, hit a punching bag, walk your dog, or anything to get your heart rate up. Whatever you choose to do, do something every day. It’ll relieve your stress, improve your cognitive functions, make you stronger, healthier, and you’ll live longer. Your campus has a gym, so go use it.
Laugh every day to survive student veteran life. We carry heavy loads as veterans, and laughing is one way to lighten that load. College is a funny place, and we don’t always need to take our civilian lives so seriously. Frankly, the military is both serious business and a joke at the same time, and college is like that too. There is an unlimited number of funny clips on the internet to laugh at and share. Every veteran should at least have a military or a dirty joke ready to go. Laughter was never prescribed to us by the VA. They never bought me tickets to a Dave Chapelle show as part of my PTSD treatment. Laugh at yourself, laugh when it’s inappropriate, laugh about anything. Look for ways to insert more comedy into your college life and have a good time with it. Make friends in college like you did in the military and enjoy the journey.
One of my favorite motivational speakers is Jim Rohn (check out his YouTube stuff). He talks about the power of studying.
“If you wish to be successful, study success. If you wish to be happy, study happiness. If you wish to be wealthy, study wealth. Don’t leave it to chance. Make it a study.”Jim Rohn
You study a lot in college, but you shouldn’t only be learning what the professors are teaching. You should be pursuing your own learning to better yourself and set yourself up for future success. Become a student of things that matter to you, not only what’s on the curriculum. I struggled with PTSD, but I studied and discovered writing, nature, fitness, and self-growth. Like in the military, there are a lot of learning opportunities around you. There will be guest speakers, mentors, and clubs. Put yourself on a path for lifelong learning. That’s how you’ll make the most of your college time, by exploring your passions and what interests you.
5. Get Out in Nature
Student veteran life is stressful; we often have more responsibilities than traditional students. Spending ten minutes a day outside has more benefits than we think. Nature boosts our physical and mental health and eases stress. Most colleges have some form of green space, so take a walk or sit down somewhere during your day. It’ll help you think, boost creativity, clear your mind, and provide some much-needed peace. We don’t view nature as medicinal yet, but we will. We get caught up in the fast-paced, technology-driven world, but nature slows us down, promotes mindfulness, reduces anxiety, and reminds us we are connected to something greater than ourselves. Put on some nature music and views while you study. Prescribe yourself ten minutes of Mother Nature each day during your college experience.
6. Be Grateful
I love that I am a veteran. I’m thankful that I got to meet some of the most amazing people in the world in the military. Admittedly, I met some of the worst, too, but the good ones outweigh the bad. Be grateful for your military experiences, even the bad days. The military life is not for the faint of heart. If you made it through that, you can handle college life. Nothing is too small to be grateful for. If you aren’t dead, in the hospital, or in jail, then it was at least a decent day. Each day write something down you are grateful for, say it aloud, or tell someone.
Start these six habits today, and college life will improve. Or you can start tomorrow, but don’t wait too long. Your future self needs you to be better. Your family, your friends, and even your country need you to reach your potential. People and militaries that are successful leave clues, and one thing they do is embrace the power of daily routines.
When my college mentor asked me about my daily routine, I said I didn’t have one. He said, “now you do,” and instructed me to do three things daily. Work out a bit, read a bit, and start each morning with a motivational YouTube video. Those small habits, done over time, slowly transformed my life and mindset. Anything else you think student veterans need to do, let me know. Or just as importantly, not do. Because what we should stop doing is as important as what we should start.
John H. Davis is a decorated combat veteran with multiple tours in Afghanistan. He has since dedicated himself to veteran advocacy, receiving congressional, legislative, and local recognition. He earned his master’s degree in education from Harvard and his bachelor’s in history from St. Joseph’s College. He has spoken to Congress as a legislative fellow for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Student Veterans of America and is an active member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the US Military Vets Motorcycle Club. John is passionate about traveling, fitness, and veteran causes.
For more veteran tips and resources, visit John’s website: johnhdaviswriter.com.